The Machinists’ Mantra: Level Thy Lathe

Let’s say you’ve gone and bought yourself a sweet sweet metal lathe. Maybe it’s one of the new price-conscious Asian models, or maybe it’s a lovely old cast iron beast that you found behind a foreclosed machine shop. You followed all the advice for setting it up, and now you’re ready to make chips, right? Well, not so fast. Unlike other big power tools, such as band saws or whatever people use to modify dead trees, machine tools need to be properly level. Not, “Hurr hurr my carpenter’s level says the bubble is in the middle”, but like really level.

This is especially true for lathes, but leveling is actually a proxy for something else. What you’re really doing is getting the entire machine in one plane. Leveling is a primitive way of removing twist from the structure. It may not seem like a huge piece of cast iron could possibly twist, but at very small scales it does! Everything is a spring, and imperceptible twist in the machine will show up as your lathe turning a couple thousandths of taper (cone) when it should be making perfect cylinders. All this is to say, before making chips, level your lathe. Let me show you the way. Continue reading “The Machinists’ Mantra: Level Thy Lathe”

Preparing For A Lathe: How to Move 3000 Pounds of Iron

You say to yourself, “Self, I want, nay, need a lathe”. Being a good little trooper, you then did all your research, having chosen Import or American, Imperial or Metric, and all your feed options and such. You then pulled the trigger and the machine is en route to your shop. Now what?

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Wireless Charger Gives a Glimpse into Industrial Design Process

Almost every product on the market has been through the hands of an industrial designer at some point in its development. From the phone in your pocket to the car in your driveway or the vacuum in your closet, the way things look and work is the result of a careful design process. Taking a look inside that process, like with this wireless phone charger concept, is fascinating and can yield really valuable design insights.

We’ve featured lots of [Eric Strebel]’s work before, mainly for the great fabrication tips and tricks he offers, like how to get a fine painted finish or the many uses of Bondo. But this time around, he walks us through a condensed version of his design process for a wireless phone charger and stand. His client had specific requirements, like being able to have the phone held up in landscape or portrait mode, so he started with pen and paper and sketched some ideas. A swiveling cylinder seemed to fit the bill, and after a quick mockup in PVC pipe, he started work on a full-size prototype in urethane foam. There are some great fabrication tips in the video below, mainly centered on dealing with not owning a lathe.

The thing for us with all of [Eric]’s videos, but especially this one, is seeing the design process laid out, from beginning to (almost) the end. He sure makes industrial design look like a cool gig, one that would appeal to the Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades who hang out around here.

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A Buyer’s Guide to Lathe Options

Lathes are complicated machines, and buying one requires weighing a lot of options. We’ve already talked about buying new Asian, or old American machines (with apologies to the Germans, British, Swiss, and all the other fine 20th century machine tool making-countries). We also talked about bed length and swing, and you ain’t got nothin’ if you ain’t got that swing. Let’s talk about the feature set now. If you’re buying new, you’ll shop on these details. If you’re buying used, knowing the differences will help you pick a good project machine.

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Shutter Bug Goes Extreme with Scratch-Built Film Camera

Should a camera build start with a sand mold and molten aluminum? That’s the route [CroppedCamera] took with this thoroughly impressive camera project.

When we think of cameras these days, chances are we picture the ones that live inside the phones in our pockets. They’re the go-to image capture devices for most of us, but even for the more photographically advanced among us, when a more capable camera is called for, it’s usually an off-the-shelf DSLR from Canon, Nikon, or the like. Where do hand-built cameras fall in today’s photography world? They’re a great way to add a film option to your camera collection.

[CroppedCamera] previously built a completely custom large-format view camera, but for this build he decided that something a bit more portable might do. The body of the camera is scratch-built from aluminum, acting as the lightproof box to hold the roll film and mount the leaf-shutter lens. There’s an impressive amount of metalwork here — sand casting, bending, TIG welding, and machining all came into play, and most of them new skills to [CroppedCamera]. We were especially impressed with the shrink-fit of the lens cone to the body. It’s unconventional looking for sure, but not without its charm, and it’s sure to make a statement dangling around his neck.

It’s tough to find non-digital DIY camera builds around here — best we could do were these laser-cut plywood modular cameras. Then again, you can’t beat this wearable camera for functional style.

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“Attempt” at Wristwatch is a Solid Success

Sometimes silence is the best compliment to a DIY project, and that doesn’t just apply to homemade lockjaw toffee. When a watch is so well-made that it looks like one from a jewelry store, it is easy to keep quiet. [ColinMerkel] took many pictures of his fourth wristwatch attempt but “attempt” is his word because we call this a success. This time around he didn’t forget the crown for adjusting the time so all the pieces were in place.

His second “attempt” at wristwatch making was featured here and it had a classical elegance. Here, the proverbial game has been stepped up. Instead of using stock steel, the body is constructed of 303 stainless steel. The watch dial will definitely draw compliments if its DIY nature is revealed, which is equally mathematical and charming. Pictures of this process were enough to convey the build without words which is always a bonus if you only want a quick look or English isn’t your first choice for language.

Not only is [Colin] an upstanding horologist, he has a reputation with aftermarket door security and a looping guitar pedal.

Buying Machine Tools: Foreign or Domestic, New or Used?

The last time we discussed machine tools, we talked about how to choose the size of the new metalworking lathe that your wallet is itching to pour itself into. The next big decision to make is “new or used?” If you’re in North America, this question has a lot of overlap with the classic question “Import or American?”. The answer boils down to what your needs are, and what you want to get out of this machine.

If you are new to machining, and want to learn the skills, I recommend starting with an Asian import machine. If you’re careful which one you select, you’ll end up with a very reasonably priced lathe that can do precise work right out of the crate. If your interest is in learning how these tools work, and in doing a restoration project, an old American machine is a great choice. Let’s look at these two routes in more detail.

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